Elementary: Entertaining, but slightly flat
|FEATURES - TV|
While it doesn't compare with Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss' Sherlock, Elementary has some moderately interesting potential on its own terms...
When I had heard that CBS was premiering an updated version of Sherlock Holmes, I was less than impressed by the news. It also came as no shock to me that the network had originally contacted Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat to do an American remake of his and Mark Gatiss’ brilliant contemporary Holmes program Sherlock (you can read my early works to refresh your memory on my views on American remakes). When Moffat told CBS no, that they weren’t ready for a remake, the network went ahead with their plans and set about with their own take on the master detective. Intrigued by the boldness of the studio heads, I went ahead and watched the series premiere, fully expecting to hate it. I’m both happy and disturbed to say that I didn’t, but it certainly has its flaws.
In Elementary, Holmes (Johnny Lee Miller – Dark Shadows) is a former consultant to Scotland Yard, and an addict, who has relocated to New York City to attend rehab. Upon release, he finds that his father has set him up with a rehab companion, in the form of Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu – Kill Bill), a former surgeon who has been dismissed from duty. She soon learns that her new friend is now consulting for the NYPD, having been sought out by Captain Tobias Gregson (Aidan Quinn – Benny and Joon). Gregson – seemingly filling in for the Lestrade role – met Holmes when he was attending a seminar at Scotland Yard on counterterrorism after 9/11, and is in awe of his abilities.
The actors themselves are good, but not great. Miller (who appeared onstage with fellow Holmes actor Benedict Cumberbatch in Danny Boyle’s version of Frankenstein) is a little too clownish at times. While Holmes was known to go from quiet introspection to manic outbursts of frenetic energy, Miller seems at times to be nearly dancing in a jester’s fashion. Liu, on the other hand, seems almost comatose at times in her performance, only now and then showing some semblance of intelligence, especially when it comes to investigating the crimes. The other issue is that the chemistry doesn’t seem to be there for the two actors. There are moments when the two certainly gel – one scene is during an investigation, when Sherlock seems impressed with Watson for posing questions, and another when Watson retrieves Holmes from jail and the two seem to share a moment of near understanding, if not friendship. But in all, the two seem too uneasy with each other, which will hopefully dissipate as the show progresses. Quinn is always great, and seems to make the best of what has been given him. He has a certain presence onscreen that seems to portray quiet authority, but you know there’s something lurking under the austere exterior that reveals itself when riled. There is also Detective Javier Abreu (Manny Perez – Rescue Me), a cocky New Yorker who dislikes Holmes and his powers of deduction.
There are little pieces of the original characters thrown in to try to connect with the original stories. On the roof of Sherlock’s apartment building, he keeps bees, and tells Watson he’s writing a book on the subject, titled Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen, a book the original Holmes wrote after retiring. There is no violin, though, which I found a little disheartening, but perhaps they felt it was too cliché. Personally, it’s one of the finer traits of Holmes, especially that someone so focused on observing everything around him can concentrate on playing music to calm his mind. Here instead, our first introduction to the detective is him standing in his apartment being bombarded by a cacophony of television sets to distract him. And while Watson is still a doctor, gone is the military service, which was an important trait of the character. Perhaps there will be something equally important added to the character of Joan, but for now, she seems quite happy just being amazed at Holmes’ powers of deduction.
The series itself, if the pilot is any indication, seems to be a really well put together crime drama, just with Holmes placed in it. It seems the sort of show that could have been meant for any other detective with comparisons to Holmes, but without him, it may not have gotten as much attention as this one seems to be getting. And there is the gender changing of Dr. Watson, which everyone involved is praising as innovative, even though this exact same change was seen in two separate American-made television movies (both meant to be pilots for series, neither of which were picked up). It feels less innovative and more of a “we did it because we could’ sort of decision. I have no issue with the change, as long as it’s sincere and future writers don’t decide later to destroy the show and try to shoehorn sexual tension into the plot.
There is also the unfortunate but inevitable comparison it is going to have with the aforementioned Sherlock, which is only natural. Not only do both shows draw upon the same source material and characters for their inspirations, fans of Sherlock will obviously know of Moffat’s near involvement with this project, and will find any excuse to make side-by-side comparisons of the two programs. Instead, viewers should rate this one on its own merits. It is a show with some potential – and at the moment, pleasantly free of any story arcs – but the characters seem slightly one-dimensional. The only real emotion we get out of Holmes or Watson comes out of an argument the two have, where Joan forces Holmes to examine himself for once instead of everyone else.
Were I to be completely cynical about it, I would simply recommend that everyone just go and seek out the superior Sherlock. However, I can believe that Elementary could have a bright future. It certainly has the possibility, provided the writers can tighten the show up and keep from making Holmes himself too American.
IF YOU ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE HELP SUPPORT OUR SITE, AT NO COST WITH ONE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK 'LIKE' BUTTON BELOW:
If you're interested in writing for Shadowlocked (disc and screening reviews, etc, or just getting some extra coverage for your extraordinary writing talent, get in touch with us.